Wednesday, September 14, 2011

Can 2011 Special Elections Predict 2012? Not Really.

While the corporate media obsess over a special election in a district that has more in common with Appalachia than "Middle America", and over another special election where no Democrat was running in Republican leaning turf, another story is developing that the media are not paying as much attention to. Here, take a look.

Within the [new CNN and Bloomberg] polls there were bad numbers for the President on the economy more generally, which has been the case for months. Obama's approval on this handling of the economy is 36 percent in the CNN poll and 33 percent in the Bloomberg, which matches Gallup, NBC/WSJ, ABC/WaPo and others in the last week or so.

But CNN also asked about the choice between President Obama and Congressional Republicans, who have sustained a huge hit themselves after the debt ceiling fight. 46 percent still say they prefer the President, to 37 percent who prefer Congressional Republicans. 15 percent say they prefer neither. The Bloomberg poll showed a tighter split, but still chose Obama 43 percent of the time to the GOP's 41.

Within the CNN question there are some interesting results. Those under 50, a group more likely to be unemployed, went for Obama by a 51 - 33 split. Even a quarter of self-described conservatives choose Obama over the Congressional GOPers, along with 50 percent of moderates and 78 percent of liberals.

Economic pessimism continues to infiltrate the thinking of American voters, and you don't have to look hard for an answer as to why. When CNN asked whether respondents feel they are better off today than they were three years ago, 58 percent no. It's not surprising given a previous CNN poll that showed 8 in 10 people think we are still in a recession, which means that many voters think we have been in a downturn since the President was elected. Gallup showed that there's been little help from the actual economic indicators, so there are many legitimate reasons for Americans to remain upset. But has the data shows, the GOP hasn't provided a silver bullet on the economy either, and voters are yet to embrace them as economic stewards. The jobs plan, which is enjoying initial support, is unlikely to change that view.

And if you want to dig deeper to see this story for yourself, look at the CNN internals and the Bloomberg internals. Even in the worst case scenario (Bloomberg's), Republicans can't beat President Obama on the issue the Beltway media pundits have all concluded should be Obama's political anvil sinking him next year. And according to CNN, American voters yet again proclaim that they want more focus on job creation than deficit reduction, and that they much prefer Democratic job creation ideas (such as aid to state and local governments, and infrastructure programs) than the Republicans' pandering to crazed teabaggers (in wanting to slash Social Security and Medicare to death).

Of course, last night's special election results weren't good for Obama or Congressional Democrats, but on the other hand many in DC are forgetting the local dynamics of both races. Here in Nevada, Kate Marshall positioned herself to essentially run against Obama, which demoralized the Democratic base and caused the entire election to be played on the Nevada GOP's turf. And in New York, Orthodox Jews and older white "Reagan Democrats" turned hard Republicans made that election into a referendum on Israel, social issues, and internal Brooklyn & Queens political drama. And while special elections tend to produce dramatic results as of late, they rarely provide a clear forecast of the political climate of the following election cycle.

What will be far more telling in the coming weeks and months, however, is what happens to the economy next, how politicians and political parties react to the state of the economy, and how voters respond to the politicians' reactions. Greg Sargent and Kevin Drum correctly point out that most Americans' view of Obama pretty much hinges on the state of the economy.

People who aren't pure partisans really do vote mostly based on the state of the economy, and they don't seem to care much why the economy is bad. When times are tough, they throw the bums out. It doesn't much matter if the bums have been trying hard.

But is it possible to overcome this dynamic if you barnstorm the country making it clear that your opposition has been working day and night to keep the economy in a ditch? The historical evidence doesn't provide much hope on that score, but then again, I'm not sure an incumbent in recent memory has really tried very hard to make something like this stick. Certainly Obama hasn't given it much of a go yet. But there's still time before next November.

Actually on that last part, Drum misses something... Something that we Nevadans saw for ourselves last year when the same Beltway media pundits were writing Harry Reid's political obituary long before Election Day.

While I agree that the state of the economy very much drives voters' decisions, the ultimate destination doesn't have to be "throw the bums out", especially when the replacement of "the bum" is someone whose agenda goes directly against what the voters want. Again, Reid proved this strategy works when he clearly demonstrated the consequences Nevada would have faced had we replaced him with Sharron Angle. Don't underestimate President Obama's ability to pivot like this and place the blame for economic turmoil exactly where it belongs.

And considering what Republican primary voters seem increasingly likely to do, this is exactly what Obama needs to be doing. How Obama and Republicans address American concerns about the economy will have much more of an effect on next year's election than a couple special election results from last night.

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